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January 2010

Eastern-Europe - Monthly political report

Two countries held presidential elections in January, namely Ukraine and Croatia, and both electorates voted as it was expected, although in Croatia the show was stolen by the inexplicable attempt of the former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader to return to politics. The Polish Prime Minister and the leader of the Slovakian opposition will not be running for office this year. In Latvia, the coalition remains rather shaky, while in Lithuania attempts to broaden the basis of the government have failed so far. Montenegro is preparing for the resignation of the Prime Minister, while in Bosnia the Serbian entity is trying to schedule a referendum. In February, struggles are to be expected in the Romanian parties, but at least the budget is now adopted. Macedonian parties are counting on early elections, not yet confirmed officially. Russia is strengthening its bases in the Caucasus, and has managed to solve its oil conflict with Belarus.

The most important event of the month was undoubtedly the presidential election in Ukraine, on the 17th January. The result was only slightly different from what had been expected earlier, as the Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko could score more votes than expected. The two candidates that competed in the second round (Victor Yanukovich and Timoshenko) only have slight differences in policies and attitudes, as they would both strengthen relations with Russia. The candidates were campaigning with all possible means between the two rounds; the opposition even managed to amend the law on elections in the chaotic parliament, and dismissed a close ally of Timoshenko, the interior minister Yuri Lutsenko. This was possible only with the help of the outgoing President Victor Yushchenko, who spent his last days with decorating and awarding his allies. At the time of the writing of the present review, the result of the second round is already known: unofficial results show the victory of Yanukovich, but Timoshenko is so close that protests cannot be excluded. Croatia also decided on its next president in January, but the large-scale victory of the opposition candidate Ivo Josipovic was outweighed by the 'political rampage' of the former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader at the beginning of the month. Sanader, as abruptly as he did when he resigned, announced his return to politics, which only resulted in a weak attempt to regain leadership over the governing Democratic Union, from which he was later excluded, and the Prime Minister started to take down his allies in the party too. January also revealed some intertwined corruption cases: a small-scale crisis in the governing coalition was caused by the removal of the Social Liberal Hrvoje Vojkovic from the head of Croatia Osiguranje, which also caused the dismissal of the main governing party's treasurer. Negotiations are still underway about the constitutional amendments necessary for the EU accession, and the government adopted a stimulus package for business to make its way out of the crisis easier. Romanian parties are deep into their inner struggles too. The most visible situation unfolded in the opposition Social Democratic Party, which will hold its congress on the 20th February. This will possibly lead to the dismissal of the party's chairman, Mircea Geoana, although it is still not clear who among the numerous contenders would take over the leadership. Inner party reforms cause conflicts in the senior governing Democratic-Liberal Party, and, at the beginning of March, the opposition National Liberals will hold their extraordinary congress as well. The parliament, meanwhile, adopted the country's 2010 budget, but pensioners and civil servants are similarly discontent with it, so February may see protests and strikes. Considerable personnel cuts are expected in the education sector as well. The Czech government also decided to introduce austerity measures in spite of the attempts of the left wing parties to increase the budgetary deficit by adopting social measures. This was not supported by either the right wing or the Prime Minister. The austerity package introduced by the finance minister Eduard Janota features also the possible introduction of the progressive income tax and the elimination of the housing subsidies. According to the ministry, the Czech Republic could introduce the euro in 2015, while the Social Democratic party estimated it for 2016 in its pre-election program. The vote will be held on 28-29 May. In the neighbouring Slovakia the election date was set officially to 12 June. The chairman of the opposition Christian Democratic Union, Mikulás Dzurinda, however, decided not to run, after he had not managed to give an appropriate answer to corruption allegations from the Prime Minister. The opposition witnessed the formation of possible coalitions: both the Conservative Democrats of Slovakia and the more and more popular Freedom and Solidarity party are prone to cooperate with the Bridge party. The month of January was characterised by two major cases: the strike of truck drivers, which still continues (and as a result of which a motion of no-confidence was tabled against the transport minister Lubomir Vázny), and the airport security scandal, which featured the delivery of explosives from Bratislava to Dublin because of insufficient security control. This made the life of the interior minister Robert Kalinák more difficult, but did not lead to his dismissal. January saw another surprising announcement: the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk will not run for office at this year's presidential election, so the governing Civic Platform started an open competition for the candidacy. Besides the 'usual suspects', the party may just as well support the independent Andrzej Olechowski. The government also drafted the reform plans for public financing and the amendments of the constitution. The reforms however, were worked out without the consent of the junior governing Peasants' Party (PSL). The chairman of PSL, the minister of economy Waldemar Pawlak therefore attacked the plans, claiming that the government did not even mention the financing of the health care system in the plans, which are primarily based on changes in the pension system and budget cuts. The stock market will be privatised in the second part of the year. In January the new minister for environment was appointed and the new gas agreement with Russia was signed as well. The Estonian parliament also debated important reforms in the secondary education, but reluctant school headmasters managed to make the ministry withdraw a number of measures, so the remainder is no more than a new set of compliances. The parliament in first reading adopted an opposition draft which stipulates that poor families may receive two different types of allowances. The level of unemployment may endanger the introduction of the euro, planned for next year. This resulted in a verbal conflict between the finance minister Jürgen Ligi and the re-elected chairman of the junior governing Alliance of the Homeland and Res Publica, Mart Laar. The Estonian government continues to remain in minority, and this situation is threatening the Lithuanian government as well, which for the time being has a minimal majority. The Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius still hopes to enlarge the governing coalition; talks are likely to be continued in February with the United Lithuania group, and its party, the Christian Party. In January, despite earlier statements, the President dismissed the minister of foreign policy Vygaudas Usackas, and the chair of the minister for health care, Algis Caplikas is also threatened because of corruption cases linked to its deputy. The minister is criticised by the opposition as well: the opposition parties will table a motion of no confidence, provided that the health care reform effecting countryside hospitals continues.

There may be a major government reshuffle in Kosovo, after the repeating of elections in two municipalities out of the three where the results of the November local elections were contested. The Democratic Party of Kosovo, led by the Prime Minister Hashim Thaci won in both municipalities, which may strengthen the party's position in the government. The reshuffle is supposed to result in the dismissal of 4 to 6 ministers. The government adopted a strategy for the northern territories, inhabited by Serbs. The UNMIK mission will also stay in the country for at least another year. During the spring, due to the new laws on labour, unions may go on strike. The neighbouring Montenegro also had to deal with strikes during the month. The beginning of the month was marked by the demonstrations of miners from Niksic, until they received promises from the Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic to fulfil their demands. The expected resignation of the Prime Minister caused turmoil within the senior governing party, and Djukanovic was suspected to have brought the finance minister Igor Luksic with him to the USA in order to present him as his successor, although Luksic might as well be replaced by a compromise candidate. Local elections were held in Cetinje, where - due to the absence of a considerable part of the opposition and to the low turnout - the governing parties won. In June the country will hold several local elections on the same day, so the opposition has 4 months to agree on single candidates or boycott. Cracks are appearing on the opposition boycott of the parliament in Albania as the Central Electoral Committee warned Socialist deputies that they might lose their parliamentary seats in March. The boycott, which is dealt with even in the Council of Europe, and which is now mediated by the President Bamir Topi, was overshadowed by floods in Northern Albania, which resulted in the forced eviction of hundreds of families. In March, the finance ministry is expected to introduce new budget cuts to improve the country's credit rating. The foreign ministry recorded a major failure when the Constitutional Court annulled the border agreement sealed with Greece. Macedonia was not able to find common ground with Greece either, although, due to the pressure on both sides, the foreign ministers of the two countries made statements about a possible solution in the near future. Almost every party is preparing for early elections, although no such announcement has been made so far. The opposition coalition is already formed, and the junior governing Democratic Union for Integration also threatens to leave the government, if the government does not solve the name dispute and does not cancel the compulsory education of the Macedonian language in the first class of primary schools. The government got into a conflict with the Constitutional Court as well, because the institution vetoed a regulation about policemen's pensions, which was not the first governmental project that bled out at the Court. The government is allegedly preparing amendments to the law governing the court because of this.

The Serbian opposition wants early elections as well, with the more and more obvious leadership of the Progressive Party (SNS). The New Serbia party also helps SNS in collecting signatures demanding an early vote. The consequences of the split in the government between the senior governing Democratic Party and the Hungarian deputies are tangible in the Vojvodina region. The parliamentary parties had a heated debate about a resolution on the Srebrenica massacre (this will be discussed in February), and the draft law on the origin of property will be debated soon too. The government still categorically refuses the possibility of wage and pension hikes this year, although some sources say that the finance ministry may overrule this decision later this year. Governing parties in Latvia also discussed the IMF-loan and its conditions last month. The parliament, after a lengthy debate, authorised the government to continue talks with creditors, but it was opposed by the junior governing People's Party, which is insisting on tax cuts. The Prime Minister's New Era Party disagreed with the People's Party also on the removal of the head of the State Income Agency, Dzintars Jakans, which ended in a compromise solution, although even this was not supported by all of the party's ministers. Parties started to prepare for the autumn elections: the Unity coalition led by the New Era is in search for further members from among the former partners of the People's Party, and the opposition Latvia's First Party / Latvian Way alliance will focus on Russian voters. Bosnia and Herzegovina will hold its legislative election in the autumn as well, and by then, the already tragic political crisis of the country may even worsen. The EU warned Bosnia that if the government continues to be idle instead of amending the human and minority rights legislation in the constitution, the trade agreement with the country may easily be suspended. The parliament failed to adopt a law on the planned 2011 census, because of the disputes of the nationalities over the questions to be asked. Republika Srpska (RS) meanwhile, started to draft legislation enabling it to call for a referendum on the decisions of the High Representative. The OHR warned about the referendum violating the Dayton Accord.

There was no progress in another conflict of the region, the Karabakh conflict. The meeting of the Azerbaijani and the Armenian presidents resulted in nothing new. Azerbaijani officials voice renewed threats towards Armenia, but officially, the government is optimistic. The administration was quite critical with the Nabucco project in February, as the President Ilham Aliyev announced that he saw no perspective for the project yet. In Armenia, meanwhile, the disappointment over the chances to ratify the Turkish protocols is continuously growing. Turkey is waiting, and as the Armenian Constitutional Court gave its OK for the documents, the Armenian government is constantly complaining for the international community to exert pressure on the Turkish government. A common view is that the protocols should be ratified before the anniversary of the Armenian genocide, 24 April. The government also announced in February that the stabilisation of the economy has begun in the key sectors, and the capital, Yerevan held a by-election in one of its districts. Besides Armenia, Russia also opened towards Turkey, though with much more success and on a larger scale. The cooperation in the energy sector could help Russia in preserving its position in Europe and also in settling conflicts in the Caucasus under its own flag. This latter is gaining importance, because - due to the destabilisation of the Northern Caucasus - the Russian President had to appoint a special envoy to control the region made up primarily from autonomous republics. Meanwhile, the reforms announced by Dmitry Medvedev continued: the State Council adopted the amendments of rules governing regional parliaments, although the meeting featured some critical remarks as well, from the Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. In January, the process of changing long-standing governors also continued, and in Kaliningrad, the biggest opposition protest of the whole decade was held, which came as a surprise for the government. The 'energy war' with Belarus also continued.

In Georgia, meanwhile, the pro-Russian political pole continues to take shape. The former Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli often goes to Moscow to 'get advice', and does it quite openly, despite President Mikheil Saakashvili interpreting this as treason. At the same time, the main political issue the country is facing is still the debate surrounding this year's local elections. The new head of the Central Electoral Commission, Zurab Kharitashvili was elected, but the President did not keep his previous promises about his nomination together with the integration of the opposition. The leader of the opposition Alliance for Georgia, Irakli Alasania announced that he would not enter the opposition primaries. In Moldova, on the contrary, the pro-Russian pole is more and more declining, as a certain number of prominent members, led by Vladimir Turcan left the Communist Party. The deputies entered the United Moldova party, and are likely to take over the leadership of the party soon. Similar actions happened on the government's side as well: the smallest governing party, the Our Moldova Alliance split along the liberal-left-wing cleavage, with Veaceslav Untila, the leader of the party's liberal wing leaving to become leader of the European Action Movement. January witnessed the start of negotiations with the EU concerning the Association Agreement, and the country also moved closer to Romania, while the first hundred days of the Filat government ended.

The Belarusian government meanwhile tried to settle its disputes with Russia. In the debate over transit fees and duties, in the end, Minsk had to give in, although at first it seemed as if electricity transits to Kaliningrad could be a good weapon in the government's hands. The West, presumably, will disapprove of the introduction of the control of online contents. Another centralising attempt is the dissolution of the governing board of the central bank, which gives way to manual governmental control. Important changes were taken in the Bulgarian government as well, after the unsuccessful hearing of European commissioner-designate and foreign minister Rumiana Zheleva. Zheleva resigned from all of her positions, and was replaced by the minister of defense Nikolay Mladenov, who in turn was followed by Anyu Angelov as the head of the ministry. The government had to face a number of embarrassing moments stemming from its personnel policies, for example the short-lived position of Ilian Mihov as economic aide. The Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who in January became the official leader of his party, found a weapon to attack the opposition: according to the government's information, Bulgaria lost a considerable amount of EU-funds because of the former government having kept letters from Brussels secret. In Slovenia, similarly, the government was reshuffled, as the leader of the junior governing Democratic Party of Pensioners, Karl Erjavec had to leave, without being able to swap places with a fellow party member as a deputy. The coalition, nevertheless, stays united. Another problem for the Prime Minister was caused by the finance minister Franci Krizanic, who made a phone call to a university in order to advance the doctoral education of a colleague. Meanwhile, the opposition attacks from two sides: The Democratic Party announced the drafting of a job package, which will be debated in the Parliament during February, and also initiated the impeachment of the President Danilo Türk because of a controversial decoration. This latter step, however, has no public support.

In February, the new President of Ukraine will be inaugurated, and inner fights in Romanian parties will be ended one way or another as well. Presumably, the boycott of the Albanian parliament will end, while in Poland, the parliament will debate reforms, and the governing Civic Platform will select its presidential candidate. In Lithuania, the fate of the coalition talks will be decided, and in Kosovo, a government reshuffle will take place. The Serbian parliament will adopt a resolution on Srebrenica, while the Bosnian Serb parliament will adopt the law on referendums. In Montenegro, Djukanovic's successor may be selected.


7 February: second round of the Ukrainian presidential election